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Front Porch: Wise Owl Or Preening Peacock? I Know What My View Is

House Speaker Halson Moultrie.

House Speaker Halson Moultrie.

Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue. - Proverbs 17:28

There is the natural vanity to which most humans are heir. There is the narcissism that often accompanies celebrity. At the extreme end of the continuum is pathological narcissism, of which Donald Trump has given the world master classes over the past four years.

There are intelligent and capable pathological narcissists. But when such narcissism is combined with other shortcomings the combination is sometimes outrageously hilarious and sometimes dangerous depending on the role such an individual has in society.

The Speaker of the House of Assembly, Halson Moultrie has mastered a sort of pathological narcissism, replete with vanity, grandiosity and pomposity, on which he constantly fumbles in his Speaker’s robes.

He behaves with a shocking lack of self-reflection and constant feverish antagonism accompanied by a fundamentalist worldview.

When a motion of no confidence was defeated in the House against the Speaker, Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis assessed the Speaker on that occasion:

“You have embarrassed, debased and desecrated the office of Speaker. The majority should not protect or cloak you in your error and buffoonery. They should assist you in finding the exit. That is the right thing to do.”

The majority did not take Mr Davis’ advice but decided to give the Speaker another chance. Was this a mistake on the part of the majority?

Speaker Moultrie has again demonstrated that he does not understand the role of the Speaker, he does not have the judgment required to be a good Speaker and he most certainly does not have the temperament to occupy that high office.

Though he enjoys styling himself as an ardent defender of the Westminster system and parliamentary norms, he appears to have limited understanding of the system and has brazenly and arrogantly jettisoned various norms when they do not serve his purpose.

As noted in a number of previous columns, some of the conventions and traditions of Westminster do not neatly apply in countries with considerably smaller parliaments such as ours.

In Britain, there will always be a larger number of backbenchers and a more robust and larger committee system. We have 39 House members in The Bahamas as compared with 650 members in the UK House of Commons.

The Speaker of the House should not be contentious as is Mr Moultrie, who spews forth on a multitude of topics ranging from foreign to domestic matters. To ensure impartiality, a Speaker should be especially careful in public pronouncements.

Tarnished

Just as the Chief Justice must be careful in his or her public statements and serve with a level of decorum, so should the Speaker. Sadly, Mr Moultrie, like Trump, has tarnished the high office in which they served.

The Speaker should not breach confidential conversations, especially with the Prime Minister, as now appears the case after the former went to the Press to disclose and to blather about a private meeting with Dr Hubert Minnis.

A Speaker should epitomize good judgment. Mr. Moultrie has proven an intemperate man of reliably poor judgment.

He lacks the wisdom of an owl and he preens like a peacock.

Mr Moultrie delights in citing the need for greater independence by a Speaker. Yet, at times he shows himself to be a determined partisan, as have other Speakers, including former Speaker Kendal Major during the PLP’s last term in office.

In a letter to the editor of this journal former House Speaker Maurice Tynes noted of Mr Moultrie’s resignation: “The Speaker’s resignation from the FNM and his decision to remain as Speaker of the House of Assembly is most unusual.

“In fact, it is the first time in my memory that I have seen that. His decision to remain in office is protected by the provisions of Article 50(2) as his continuing in office is not dependent on his membership in a political party. The question then is does he have the moral authority to stay in office as Speaker?

“Moreover, the Speaker tried to make the claim in his letter that his resignation from his political party was a matter of principle. He made the charge that he could not remain affiliated with the FNM because the party was not committed to the ‘fundamental essentials of democracy’, a very serious charge.

“But if those fundamentals of democracy were the real reason for his resignation from the FNM, then his continuing in office as Speaker remedies nothing. His resignation as Speaker of the House of Assembly, however, would have sent a stronger signal of his fidelity to those democratic principles he espoused.”

Petulant

Few doubt that Mr Moultrie would have remained a member of the FNM if re-nominated. His petulant and angry resignation is the sort of pathologically narcissistic behaviour of someone like Trump.

It is curious and laughable when someone dresses up their personal pique and wounded pride in the language of supposed principles.

Mr Moultrie’s egotism is so extreme he seems to believe the FNM cannot win without his winning the Nassau Village seat he currently occupies. What makes this even more guffaw-inducing and side-splitting are the news reports with numerous comments from constituents glad to see his political back.

If Mr Moultrie returns to private practice, potential clients may be very weary of someone who appears to have breached a serious confidence.

After reportedly being denied re-nomination by the FNM, Mr Moultrie seems to have gone politically berserk.

The tragedy is that at times, there were some important issues raised in his diatribes. But he was the wrong messenger and he delivered the message in the wrong manner.

It is true that the legislative branch of our government does not have the administrative independence it ought to have in our system of parliamentary democracy.

In 2000, a Parliamentary Review Commission was appointed by Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and co-chaired by Sir Arthur Foulkes and the late Sir Clement Maynard. Other members of the Commission were: Messrs Felix Stubbs, Raymond Winder, Ishmael Lightbourne, Timothy Donaldson and Ms. Wendy Warren.

Among other things, the Commission dealt with the very matters raised by the Speaker and made recommendations including the establishment of a separate administrative arrangement for the legislative branch of government.

Independent

It is wrong for the Attorney General, who is Legal Adviser to the Executive Branch of Government and a part of that Branch, to give legal advice to the Speaker. The legislative branch should have independent legal advice when the occasion arises.

Unfortunately, this study, like many others done for the advancement of the country over the years, was put on the shelf and little or no action was taken by successive administrations since 2000.

If Speaker Moultrie was really interested in results, he would have taken out that Report, dusted it off and made representations through the appropriate channels to both the government and the opposition to effect the desired and necessary changes.

Unfortunately for us, too often individuals elected to the post of Speaker of the House have little or no experience in parliamentary procedure and less in even following the goings on of parliament.

We are not alone in this and the Commonwealth has held meetings of Speakers to assist especially those from small developing countries to learn the ropes, so to speak. A report from the 20th Commonwealth Conference of Parliamentary Speakers shed some telling insights: “The stated aim of this 20th Conference was to ‘maintain, foster, and encourage impartiality and fairness on the part of Speakers and presiding officers of parliaments; promote knowledge and understanding of parliamentary democracy in its various forms and the development of parliamentary institutions.”

The Report went on to record that several Speakers complained that soon after they are elected, and try to fairly apply the Standing Orders, their own parties accuse them of being favourable to the opposition and hostile to the government.

The Report noted that such negative tendencies can only be overcome by expanding the knowledge and understanding of parliamentary democracy and strengthening parliamentary institutions.

Mr Moultrie is the worst Speaker since independence. While the late Sir Arlington Butler was known for his affectations and loveable vanity, he was highly intelligent, versed in the parliamentary system, approachable and beloved by many. Mr Moultrie cannot touch the hem of Arlington Butler’s robes or class act.

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